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Trump knocks ‘softer’ NFL rules: ‘Concussions — ‘Uh oh, got a little ding on the head?’

Donald Trump boasted "We don’t go by these new, and very much softer, NFL rules...our people are tough." (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Donald Trump knocked the National Football League’s rules about concussions, calling them “soft,” during a Wednesday campaign rally in Florida. While speaking at an airport in Lakeland, Fla., the Republican presidential nominee witnessed a woman in the audience faint. First wondering whether she was a protester, and then asking whether there was a “doctor in the house,” Trump said he was confident she would return to the rally.

When she came back, after being treated for passing out in the tarmac heat, Trump boasted that his supporters were tough — tougher, even, than the safety rules in place to protect professional football players.

“That woman was out cold, and now she’s coming back,” Trump said from the podium. “See, we don’t go by these new, and very much softer, NFL rules. Concussions — ‘Uh oh, got a little ding on the head? No, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season’ — our people are tough.”

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Concussions, of course, are more than a little ding on the head. Repeated or severe blows to the skull, not uncommon in professional football games, may cause lasting injury. As The Post’s Travis M. Andrews reported in April, recent MRI scans of 40 NFL players found that 30 percent had signs of nerve cell damage. Florida State University College of Medicine’s Francis X. Conidi, a physician and author of the study, said in a statement that the rates of brain trauma were “significantly higher in the players” than in the general population. In the spring, the NFL acknowledged a link between football and degenerative brain diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is associated with symptoms such as depression and memory loss.

Trump’s remarks came at a time when the NFL has been under intense scrutiny for its high rate of head injuries, including lawsuits from thousands of former football players. Since 2009, when the NFL released its Game Day Concussion Protocol, the football league has been refining the way it handles injuries; one such rule is that players with suspected concussions must be removed from the field. (Cam Newton, the Panthers’ quarterback, sat out a game Monday night because of a concussion.) The NFL also recently announced a $100 million initiative, split between developing new sports technologies and medical research, to make the game safer.

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Experts and advocates condemned Trump’s comments. George Washington University Law School’s Michael V. Kaplen, who specializes in the legal issues surrounding brain injury, told the New York Daily News that Trump’s dismissal of the concussion protocol “demeans and disparages people with brain injuries.” Each year, 2 million people in the United States suffer from a brain injury, he said.

Every brain injury, including concussions, “should be taken seriously,” Susan H. Connors, president and chief executive of the nonprofit group Brain Injury Association of America, said in a statement issued Wednesday. “BIAA is disappointed in Mr. Trump’s ridicule of the NFL’s concussion protocols and especially of his connotation that those who sustain a concussion are weak.”

But this is not the first time the GOP candidate has been unimpressed with what he sees as weakness in modern football. During a Reno rally in January, as The Post reported, he said, “football has become soft like our country has become soft.”

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